JANESVILLE

Rock County has signed an offer to buy the vacant Pick ‘n Save building on Janesville’s south side and plans to turn the former grocery store into a new human services complex.

County officials said Wednesday all human services programs—except those offered at Beloit’s Eclipse Center—will shift to the 129,000-square-foot building at 1717 S. Center Ave. likely by late 2020 or early 2021. The county expects to close on the property by June 17.

The purchase agreement, which includes the building and adjoining parking lots for $4.4 million, must be approved by the Rock County Board.

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Developer Jim Grafft and his family bought the property in January 2018 for about $2.9 million. The building has sat vacant since Pick ‘n Save moved out in November 2017.

County Administrator Josh Smith, county board Chairman Russ Podzilni, Director of Human Services Kate Luster and Facilities Management Director Brent Sutherland made the purchase public Wednesday afternoon in an interview with The Gazette.

The purchase is the county’s first step in its facilities master plan, which recommends razing the 47-year-old health care center on County F near the jail and relocating to a new facility.

A Milwaukee architectural firm unveiled the master plan in September.

The health care center currently houses offices for the Department of Human Services behavioral health program; Children, Youth and Families program; and administrative staff. Other department services are offered at the Rock County Job Center, Eclipse Center in Beloit and at facilities on Franklin and Court streets in Janesville.

Other recommendations in the master plan include a new Huber dormitory, an expansion of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office and Rock County Jail, and nearly $15 million in improvements to the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds.

About $150 million in facilities upgrades are detailed in the master plan. Officials said Wednesday the health care center likely will be vacated and could be razed in 2024.

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The Rock County Health Care Center was built 47 years ago and served as the county's psychiatric hospital. County officials announced Wednesday that the county intends to buy the former Pick 'n Save building on Janesville's south side for $4.4 million.

Upgrades to the vacant store—including remodeling, buying furniture, engineering and parking lot resurfacing—will cost about $17 million, officials said. In all, the move is estimated to cost $20.5 million.

The Rock County Medical Examiner’s Department, the county’s IT department and emergency operations also are located in the health care center. It’s unclear where those departments will be moved, officials said.

Smith said the general services committee could vote on a resolution May 21 authorizing the purchase and amending the county budget to buy the property using the general fund balance. The full board could vote on the resolution May 23.

Smith said the county likely will borrow money later this year to pay back the $4.4 million siphoned from the general fund balance.

Luster praised the purchase Wednesday, saying consolidating human services programs in a centrally located building near public transit will foster a more hospitable environment for clients and employees.

All divisions of human services in Janesville will be moved to the new building, except for the youth services center. The divisions that will move include the Aging and Disability Resource Center; Economic Support Services; Comprehensive Community Services; Children, Youth and Families, including Child Protective Services; and behavioral health, including outpatient services, crisis intervention and treatment court.

An estimated 350 human services employees will relocate to the new building, Sutherland said.

“Having a centralized site will just lend itself to better care, more efficiencies and employee satisfaction, too,” Luster said. “...I really do see this as a great opportunity. ...We imagine that there will be a new, welcoming, comprehensive environment for folks who need human services in the future.”

Officials said human services employees will have input in the building’s design. In a Wednesday memo to staff, Luster wrote the “extensive” renovations are intended to “make this a welcoming and modern workplace and service environment.”

Officials left the door open to possibly selling a slice of the property’s vast parking lot. Smith said the county won’t know how much parking space it will need until after meeting with engineers and architects.

Design and development are tentatively scheduled from August to September, with bidding opening in early 2020 and construction beginning in April 2020.

Smith said everything in the Rock County Job Center, which the county owns, will be moved to the new building, including job center partners that are not county agencies.

“The intent is to be able to move everybody, which means, in the future, the job center is empty,” Smith said. “…Is that any opportunity at some point to dispose of that asset? Yeah, maybe.”

The purchase comes as some south-side residents clamor for new development and a neighborhood grocery store to replace Pick ‘n Save.

Podzilni said the county didn’t buy the building to enhance the south side, but officials realize it will have an “ancillary effect” there, which should be “very encouraging to other businesses,” he said.

Smith added, “Hopefully, it will be an economic assist for the south side of Janesville.”

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